ECU alumnus Bullock wins third Grammy

East Carolina University School of Music alumnus Chris Bullock (BM Performance, Jazz Studies, 2003) won his third Grammy with the multi-genre band Snarky Puppy on February 12, 2017. This year’s win was for Best Contemporary Instrumental Album, which the band also won in 2016. They won for Best R&B Performance in 2014.

A multi-instrumentalist, Bullock performs on saxophone, clarinet, flutes and synths, and has interests in hip-hop and electronic music including deejaying, beat making and production.

Kim publishes new book

Nanyoung Kim published “Romanesque Churches, Healing Pilgrimage” in December, 2016.


The art appreciation text explains the forms and spaces of Romanesque architecture from historical, social, engineering, structural, symbolic, psychological and aesthetic perspectives.


Kim captured photos for the work during frequent research and travel trips to Europe.


The book, published by Yeji Publishing Company, is intended for the general public.

Cover of Nanyoung Kim’s latest book.

Connecting in Chicago

Senior Nicole Gemmell led seven dancers to Chicago in April to compete for a chance to set her choreography on Inaside Chicago Dance, a not-for-profit jazz company based in the Windy City.

The piece, “IdentiFind,” was performed on the Athenaeum Theatre’s main stage in late April, concluding Chicago’s celebration of National Dance Month. Gemmell’s work was recognized as first runner up out of 21 works shown.

“I got a lot of really positive feedback,” Gemmell said. “Our dancers looked like a professional company. A lot of the other pieces included professional dancers in them, and the ECU dancers matched their professionalism, technique and performance quality.”

The Wake Forest native said that the experience built confidence for the East Carolina dancers. “We often think that we aren’t professional because we’re in college,” she said. ECU has a strong program that prepares us to compete in this field, she said. “This is do-able.”

Gemmell said the inspiration for “IdentiFind” came from blank canvas. “As you mature in your walk through life, you begin to get your voice. Maybe you dance and it’s represented by a color. Maybe you get injured. The color goes away a bit, but it’s still a part of you,” she said.

While Gemmell didn’t win the opportunity to work with Inaside Chicago Dance as a guest choreographer, she auditioned with the company earlier in the year and won an apprenticeship. She begins service in August.

“I’m excited to grow as a dancer and artist, and to try to get into the choreography scene,” she said.” This was my first audition. It was like God was saying ‘this is where I need to be.’”

The ECU-Chicago connection is strong with Inaside Dance. Richard A. Smith (BFA ’00) is the artistic director of the company, which includes dancer Marcus Hardy (BFA ’12). Smith was in residence last fall to set “Come Snow, Sleet, or Shine” on ECU dancers. The work was performed on the Dance 2016 program in McGinnis Theatre and featured 13 ECU dancers, including Gemmell.

“There are a lot of ECU dance alumni in Chicago,” she said. “There are a lot of opportunities and everybody is so willing to help.”

The dancers were supported in part by the Fine Arts Funding Board, a body that allocates emergency funding to support student opportunities in the arts.


Nicole Gemmell and seven dancers pose outside of Chicago's Athenaeum Theatre.

Nicole Gemmell and seven dancers pose outside of Chicago’s Athenaeum Theatre.

, from left: Melissa Henley, Nicole Gemmell, Benji Martin, Erica Bolick, Kennedy Hill, Katherine Corbett, Taliah Vanderbeek, and Katy Quick at Chicago’s Athenaeum.

Design Students Create Minigolf Course for Charity

School of Art and Design students in Lisa Beth Robinson’s Design Two class invented a minigolf course to benefit the fundraising efforts of the ENC Dream Factory. Participating businesses across downtown Greenville hosted student-designed putting greens. Event organizer Molly Cashion said that participants traveled from business to business to engage the greens in support of the charity. In the related photograph, Lizzie Brewer tests her skills on a green created by Julia Chojnowski for Christy’s Euro Pub.PutPutPhoto

ECU Speech Communication Center helps ease fear of public speaking

The only thing some people dread more than public speaking is death.

That’s according to Dr. Pamela Hopkins, director of East Carolina University’s Speech Communication Center, where students, faculty, staff and community members learn to overcome anxiety to make effective presentations.

“We work across campus – any major, any year,” Hopkins said. “You don’t have to love it (public speaking) but you can learn to do it well. Gaining confidence is key.”

Housed in a former radio studio on the second floor of the School of Communication, the center has a lecture room where people can practice speaking in front of a small group. There are also two offices for confidential feedback.

Hopkins and three graduate students – Alyssa Gutierrez, Katherine Hyatt Hawkins and Kelsey Rhodes – offer one-on-one consultations or group workshops on researching, writing, organizing and delivering an effective speech or presentation; working effectively in a group; acing a job interview; or learning to speak in a more professional manner.

The center offers topics on communication anxiety, organizing an effective presentation, dynamic delivery, professional communication and speaking etiquette.

“There is no career field or profession where you can excel without being an effective communicator,” Hopkins said. “It’s what will separate one student from another in a job opportunity.”

Dr. Wade Dudley, ECU professor of history and advisor to the Phi Alpha Theta History Honor Society, asked Hopkins to lead a seminar on effective presentations this spring. About 75 undergraduate and graduate students attended and offered positive reviews.

“I had the privilege of observing and evaluating presentations by most of the participating students,” Dudley said. “Without fail, they did fine jobs. Better yet, those who graduated in May are now gainfully employed or attending graduate school.”

As a result, Phi Alpha Theta has scheduled another seminar this fall and Dudley hopes to hold one each semester.

“I frequently stress to students that presentation of self via speaking and writing is the cornerstone of achieving good grades and employment after graduation,” Dudley said. “Knowing this, it seems fairly silly not to take advantage of the communications center. Professor Hopkins and the center are assets that all students should use.”

Tai-Yu “Terry” Huang, an ECU doctoral student in bioenergetics and exercise science, visited Hopkins because he is required to teach a class. Originally from Taiwan, he was concerned that he wouldn’t be able to teach effectively because students might not be able to understand him.

James Coker, ECU associate director of admissions, said a workshop held for admissions personnel will help them better communicate with campus visitors they encounter on the job.
He recently taught his first exercise physiology class and the skills he learned at the center prepared him well, he said. “They provided opportunities for me to practice teach and (work on) skills like speaking speed and pronunciation,” Huang said. “They also encouraged me about teaching and speaking in English. I really built up confidence about teaching.”

Nursing students have also benefitted from Hopkins’ expertise, said Dr. Gina Woody, clinical associate professor of nursing.

“It is necessary for nurses to possess strong communication skills and apply these skills in advocating for patient-centered care,” Woody said. “Studies have shown that clear, concise communication among health care providers positively impacts patient outcomes.”

Recent ECU nursing graduate Skyler Kennemur said Hopkins offered suggestions on improving verbal and non-verbal communication that will help her give important information to patients and their families. “They need to be able to understand, process and make decisions based on what we have told them.”

Since opening two years ago, more than 470 students have taken advantage of the center’s services – which are completely free. Also, Hopkins’ workshops, which she gives on and off campus, have drawn more than 570 faculty, staff and students. The goal is to double those numbers this year, she said.

Before the fall semester started, Hopkins hosted a seminar with ECU’s admissions staff.

One of the exercises focused on articulation, saying each sound correctly. They also discussed often mispronounced words. Hopkins offered some tongue twisters, which she said is the single best tool to help improve articulation. She also gave tips on posture, voice tone, listening and personal space.

“She pulls out a lot of good things to think about,” said Darlene Harrell, an admissions processor.

“We work with so many offices on campus, we’ve got to make sure we’re communicating effectively,” said James Coker, associate director of admissions. “We’re the front door to the university.”

Hopkins added that effective communication can be a challenge as people text, tweet or email instead of having a conversation. “They forget to look people in the eye,” she said.

“As a professional, I can’t imagine a better skill than effective communication,” Hopkins said.

The center’s hours are 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. Monday-Thursday. Call 252-328-2790 for more information or email


—Crystal Baity, ECU News ServicesHopkinsWeb

Alumna stars in opera version of “Cold Mountain”

Mezzo-soprano Deborah Nansteel (BM ’07), premiered the role of Lucinda in the Santa Fe Opera Festival’s world premiere production of Cold Mountain on August 1.

Born in Okinawa, Japan, and raised in Havelock, North Carolina, Nansteel has performed as part of the American Opera Initiative: with the Seattle, Dayton and Merola opera companies, and with the Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi in Milan, and the Seattle Symphony. She completed her second season at Washington National Opera’s Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program in May.

In its review of the premiere, Opera Today wrote that Nansteel “sang with formidable vocal power while expressing the desperation of a runaway slave.”

Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Jennifer Higdon based the opera on Charles Frazier’s 1997 novel. Like the book, the opera tells the story of Confederate soldier W.P. Inman and his struggle to return to his North Carolina home and his wife during the Civil War. Isabel Leonard and Nathan Gunn sing the starring roles.

The Dutch recording label PentaTone will release a recording of the premiere.
The opera will be reprised at Opera Philadelphia in February 2016. The North Carolina Opera, a co-commissioner of the opera along with Santa Fe Opera, Opera Philadelphia and Minnesota Opera, plans to present Cold Mountain as part of its 2017-2018 season.

“This piece has deeply ingrained historical and cultural connections to North Carolina that will invigorate our core audience, while inspiring our state-wide community,” said Timothy Myers, artistic director and principal conductor at North Carolina Opera.


– Steve Tuttle, ECU News Services
Above: Nansteel delivers formidable power as “Lucinda” in Santa Fe Opera Festival’s premiere of Cold Mountain.

Grass wins Yamaha performance award

An East Carolina University School of Music graduate student is one of nine winners in the 2015 Yamaha Young Performing Artists competition.

Zachary Grass, who plays the tuba, is the only low brass instrumentalist selected as a YYPA winner for 2015. Other winners, from South Korea, Japan and the United States, play flute, bassoon, clarinet, saxophone, trumpet, drum set, cello and piano.

Grass is a student of Professor Tom McCaslin, a Yamaha Performing Artist.

“I am humbled by this opportunity,” Grass said. “Past winners of this competition include Carol Jantsch, the principal tubist of the Philadelphia Orchestra, and Stephen Dumaine, principal tubist of the National Symphony Orchestra, to name only two of many who have gone on to successful music careers.”

The annual YYPA program, which underscores Yamaha’s commitment to music education, recognizes exceptional emerging jazz, classical and contemporary music instrumentalists. Winners are chosen after submitting recordings and supporting materials, which are evaluated by a panel of Yamaha Performing Artists and other celebrity musicians.

“I am just happy to be able to represent my instrument and the hard work of my professors and influences at ECU and abroad who have gotten me to this point,” Grass said.

Grass joins the ranks of more than 200 competition winners since the program’s inception. This honorees received an all-expense paid trip to the YYPA celebration weekend, which was held June 20-23 and included rehearsals, masterclasses, social events and workshops focused on how to establish and maintain a career in music.

“The Yamaha Young Performing Artist Competition is one of the most prestigious competitions for young performing musicians in the United States,” said McCaslin. “For Zack to be included as one of the 2015 winners is a recognition of his talents, work ethic and dedication to improving himself as a performer. I am extremely proud of Zack and can’t wait to see what the future holds for this young man.”

Grass grew up in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania.

—Harley DarttGrassWeb

Giant fish unveiled

A 7-foot ceramic fish wowed more than 100 people who watched its fiery debut June 26 on the edge of East Carolina University’s campus.

A nearly two-week, laborious process culminated at nightfall when ECU students pulled back the walls of a giant kiln that had held the sculpture at its peak firing temperature – 2,100 degrees Fahrenheit. The work crew hugged each other, joined arms and bowed to a clapping crowd after the unveiling.

“This was a testament to everybody putting together their resources, time and talent,” said Seo Eo, associate professor of art in the ECU School of Art and Design. “Our students, their effort and ingenuity, are amazing. It was true teamwork and I really want to congratulate them.”

The project gave students practical and technical experience working on a much larger piece than they are used to, said Adam Landman, an ECU alumnus and project manager of STARworks Center for Creative Enterprise. STARworks, a not-for-profit arts incubator in Star, North Carolina, has created three other large fire sculptures and loaned ECU its kiln and expertise on the project.

“It’s a great way to spread the value of art across the state,” Landman said.

Often ceramic artists work behind closed doors in studios. “This brings it out in the open,” he said. “It’s a way to bring art performance to the community.”

Rising ECU junior Grace Joyner of Rocky Mount drove to the unveiling after following the team’s progress on Facebook. She plans to teach and is majoring in art education with a concentration in ceramics. “Kiln building is something I’ll be doing next semester so I wanted to see this,” she said.

The sculpture was made possible by the ECU Ceramics Guild, which raised approximately $4,500 for the project, in collaboration with STARworks and the School of Art and Design in ECU’s College of Fine Arts and Communication.

Graduate student Abir Abumohsen designed the fish, inspired by ECU’s coastal location. “I’ve never done a sculpture that big before,” she said. “It’s a completely different experience. It’s kind of like a community project.”

Joining Abumohsen on the project were graduate research assistants Devin McKim, Alexandra Ingle and Brett Beasley and ECU faculty member Jim Tisnado.

Undergraduate assistants were Heather Graham, Brooke Van Onselder, Taylor Meadows and Chris Cardone, who led the ceramics guild fundraising efforts for the project. Anne Pärtna and Andres Allik were engineering consultants for the project.

Only 12 hours after the artwork was unveiled, the fish broke as students and faculty prepared to move it. None of it was salvaged.

“While the sculpture sustained some damage, the unveiling event was still spectacular, and we feel we succeeded without any incidents at the site,” Eo said. “Studying the damages on Saturday, (we discovered) it was caused by the shortened schedule in build and drying time due to the delay in site preparation.”

The artists initially planned to set up on June 14 but couldn’t get on site until June 17, which cost four days in the process. “We were hopeful and did our best to dry the sculpture, but in the end, we just did not have enough drying time,” Eo said.

While the sculpture won’t be displayed outside the Jenkins Fine Arts Center as planned, Eo said the effort wasn’t in vain. “This was a great learning experience.”

—Crystal Baity, ECU News Services

Above: Abir Abumohsen’s model serves as a reference while ECU students and faculty construct a seven-foot tall FireFish.

Students Savor Studies in Sharjah

Eight art and design majors journeyed to the University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates for two weeks in March. They worked with Sharjah students to create a large wheat paste mural that featured themes of community, communication and culture. They also spent time exploring the desert, museums and galleries, ascending the world’s tallest building and learning about Arabic food and culture.
The exchange, facilitated by printmaking professors Heather Muise and Matthew Egan, was in response to five students and two faculty members from Sharjah that visited ECU’s campus in November.
Abir Abumohsen, a master’s of fine arts degree candidate studying ceramics, said that meeting students from Sharjah at ECU in the fall created an instant connection. “When I got there, it was nice to see them again,” she said.
ECU students brought work and mounted a collaborative exhibition with University of Sharjah students. Abumohsen exhibited mixed media drawings that explored the Muslim female image in social media. Graduate student Emily Branch brought landscape work.
MFA painting candidate Andrew Wells exhibited two large charcoal drawings that explore relationships with social media. “They were big and satirical images,” he said. “There were a lot of comments about them from students and professors.”
Wells said that attending classes in Sharjah was similar to attending classes at ECU. “The professors have their little quirks and sayings,” he explained. “It’s like you never left the U.S. Students still pull out their phones during class.”
In addition to attending classes, ECU students offered presentations about their work and offered workshops. Wells used a series of 40 drawings to demonstrate stop motion animation, ultimately crushing a chicken with a rock. “You have to keep people entertained,” he explained. Abumohsen taught hand-building techniques in clay.
For Muise and Egan, sharing the Middle East with others has been a mission. Muise first worked in Sharjah after she graduated. She and Egan have returned repeatedly over the years, including two years of service during which they took a leave of absence from East Carolina. “It’s our mission to facilitate cultural exchange between ECU and the United Arab Emirates,” Muise explained. “We know everybody in arts academia there, so it works to our advantage.”
“It was an amazing opportunity,” Wells said. “Having teachers who know the place, you got to interact with locals and students who are living there on such an intimate level. We went to a lot of their shows.”
Abumohsen moved to the U.S. from Gaza when she was 12. “I grew up in a part of the middle east that was so destroyed,” she said. “It was exciting to be going to a place where there was so much advancement.” Fittingly, her artistic work is about building bridges between the West and East.
Branch says that because her generation grew up in the shadow of 9/11, she’s searching for a deeper understanding. “I wanted us to be good examples of Americans. The Middle East sees lots of negative images of Americans, just as Americans see lots of negative images of the Middle East. Now, I think we have a better understanding.”
Muise says her ultimate goal is to facilitate semester-long exchanges between the two universities and cultures.
In addition to engaging in campus life, ECU students went offroad in the desert, surfed sand dunes on snowboards, saw a falcon show, rode camels, experienced bellydancing and walked around the mall of Dubai. The trip was timed to experience the Sharjah Biennial, a festival that invited 50 artists from 25 countries to introduce their ideas of “the possible” through their art.
“The world is so small,” said Wells. “There are other places I could go, but going there, actually going and seeing, it completely changed everything.”

Chamber Singers Land International Win

The Chamber Singers won the 13th International Maribor Choral Competition Gallus in Maribor, Slovenia in April. They were the only American choir invited to participate.
The competition is part of the European Grand Prix for Choral Singing, a “contest of contests,” that is organized annually by one of the member organizations: Concorso Polifonico Guido d’Arezzo in Arezzo, Italy; Béla Bartók International Choral Competition in Debrecen, Hungary; Florilège Vocal de Tours, France; the G. Dimitrov May Choir Competition in Varna, Bulgaria; the Certamen Coral de Tolosa in Basque Country, Spain and the Maribor competition.
The singers were extended an invitation to compete as a result of their second place finish at the Tolosa International Choral Contest in Spain last year.
“Singing in the Chamber Singers is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said Caroline Vaughn, a senior vocal performance major. “I love being a part of this small-ensemble teamwork experience.”
The 36-member group carried 11 works in their repertory for three days of performance and competition. At the opening concert, each of the 12 competing choirs performed two selections from their native country in their native language. The Chamber Singers performed “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” from the Broadway musical Gypsy and “My Soul’s Been Anchored in the Lord,” a Moses Hogan-arranged spiritual.
“That concert was not judged and the intent was to show who we are as a culture,” said Tim Messina, an undergraduate vocal performance major. “You don’t get more American than Broadway and spirituals.”
On the following day, the choir performed twice. “After the first performance, we were exhausted,” Messina explained. “But we hyped ourselves up and ended up performing the next four songs better than we’d ever performed them. If we didn’t make it, we were winners to ourselves.”
The singers credit their studies, time spent singing together and their leadership. “Dr. Crane expects us to work hard and do our homework, but also to look for things to fix. That humility set us apart,” Vaughn said. “We were just there to sing. This is who we are as Americans and as ECU students.”
Kimberly Ness, a master’s of music degree candidate studying choral conducting, said that the quality of the Chambers Singers isn’t derived solely from the voices in the ensemble. “It’s not each singer’s individual ability as much as our collective ability to read music and rehearse efficiently. The repertoire we prepared for Slovenia we learned in one semester, and it was the hardest rep we’ve learned yet.”
“That’s what makes the Chamber Singers special,” Vaughn said. “It’s a group of people where everyone has the same feeling about music and dedication to it.”
The Chamber Singers were the last choir announced into the final five. Ness said she didn’t think the ensemble would make the cut because the judges had already announced a mixed ensemble as a finalist.
“The European judges were listening for a specific type of sound,” Vaughn said, “but then I realized that this was actually happening.”
At the final concert on April 12, the Chamber Singers performed Petr Eben’s “Cantico delle Creature,” Eriks Esenvalds’ “Heavens’ Flock” and a work by Claude Debussy in Latvian. Their performance bested a youth choir from Latvia by 0.3 points. The other three finalists represented Ireland, Slovenia and Sweden.
The ensemble received a 2500 Euro cash prize and will be invited to participate in the 2016 European Grand Prix for Choral Singing competition in Varna, Bulgaria.
The ECU Chamber Singers consists of auditioned undergraduate and graduate students, and is the select choral ensemble at ECU. They maintain a rigorous rehearsal and performance schedule, and focus predominantly on unaccompanied choral literature suitable for advanced chamber choir.
See the winning performance at